Originally published in Artforum, September 2001, p. 42.


Eduardo Kac has been exploring telepresence in his art since 1986. His work, documented at www.ekac.org , can be seen at the New York Center for Media Arts, New York (through Sept. 30), and the Yokohama Triennale, Japan (Sept. 2­Nov. 11).

Traditionally, telecommunications has involved the transmission, reception, and exchange of sound, images, and text. But in the last fifteen years it has acquired an altogether new dimension: telepresence, or the ability to produce action at a distance. Connecting robots to telecom networks enables those networks to act as vehicles for remote agency; artworks that use this technology explore the drama of distance, that is, they investigate the implications of being present in one space while simultaneously exerting perceptible physical influence in another.

Telepresence art preceded the development of the Web, but now it is coevolving with it, as exemplified by the work of artists such as Ken Goldberg ( www.ken.goldberg.net ) and ( Eric Paulos www.eiu.org ). The Internet offers telepresence both a broader context and a wider audience.
Vectorial Elevation, 1999­2000


Realized on the Internet and in the sky above the Zócalo, or central square, in Mexico City, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's Vectorial Elevation enabled viewers to manipulate the light patterns created by eighteen strategically placed searchlights. The piece's monumental scale effectively bridged the public space of the town square and the public cyberspace of the Internet.

Thundervolt, 1994


For this work, Gene Cooper, an installation and performance artist, linked the electrical system of his body to that of the earth. Real-time data recording lightning strikes around the United States were relayed to his computer in Telluride, Colorado, via the National Lightning Detection Network. The strikes registered onscreen were translated into electrical signals, triggering muscles to twitch in Cooper's body through a series of transcutaneous electro-neuro stimulators.

Stock Market Skirt, 1998


Nancy Paterson's Stock Market Skirt played with the myth that skirt length is an economic indicator: the better the economy, the shorter the skirt. A party dress made of blue taffeta and black velvet was displayed on a dressmaker's mannequin online, via Web cam; its hemline rose and fell according to up-to-the-minute data provided by computers monitoring the fluctuation of stock pricesˇthus making a Wall Street boom the indisputable cause of the micromini.

Bowling Alley, 1995­96


Shu Lea Cheang's installation spanned not only the Web but two "real world" sitesˇa gallery in the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and a bowling alley several miles away. The actions of participating bowlers at the alley controlled an enormous video display in the museum on which were projected pictures of the bowlers (friends of the artist) and text from their earlier e-mail correspondence with her. The images changed according to the velocity of the ball and its course down the laneˇa strike for populist art?

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Bump, 1997­2000


For Bump, the Austro-Hungarian artist collective Association Creation virtually linked two footbridges made of wooden boardsˇone in Linz and one in Budapest. When a person stepped onto the bridge in Linz, his or her weight caused the corresponding plank to rise about a centimeter in Budapest, and vice versa, by means of a data line connecting pneumatic pistons on both ends. This remote force-feedback loop created a dynamic form of communication, inviting pedestrians to make an impression miles away with a single, everyday movement.

Light on the Net, 1996


In Masaki Fujihata's simple Web interface, a grid depicting forty-nine tiny lightbulbs, viewers can click on the bulbs to turn their real counterparts on and off in the lobby of a Japanese office building. This whimsical work conflates object (bulbs) and information (light data) and gives you credit for your workˇswitch on a light and your computer's ID appears under "Recent 10 Accesses."


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